Following on from my last review of the Algarve, I was up bright and early to join the chef at the Anantara Vilamoura for the 20 minute drive into the little town of Loule. This is one of the most popular places to visit. It remains quite authentic with some attractive traditional buildings and a nice “Farmers“ market, which is open mornings 5 days a week.
The market was opened in 1908, and the building façade has a Moorish influence, so it resembles a souk in many ways. Impeccably clean, lots of local produce, so fruits, vegetables, olives, sauces especially Piri –Piri and, of course, wines from all over Portugal. Yes, that is a cut-out of Sir Cliff Richard in the wine section, as he has a vineyard in the area. There is a separate section selling some incredible looking fish, pictured below. On the sides you have coffee bars and some shops selling leather goods and ceramics.
After the market it was back to the hotel for some cooking lessons. Now those who know me appreciate my skills in the kitchen are more in the tasting than cooking department, but it seems I have some expertise in shrimp cleaning, having seemed to skin several bowlfuls in a few minutes. These were then used in a spicy soup dish and, to my surprise, no one complained they were eating shell! I have to say I think Portuguese food is underestimated, just like their fantastic selection of wine- Mateus Rose is regarded rather less than the Germans think of Blue Nun! The food is probably more rustic than its neighbours in Spain or France, maybe more wholesome, but I really enjoy it.
In the afternoon, I went to visit two hotels we have used consistently over the last three years, with excellent feedback. The Pine Cliffs (formerly known as Sheraton) has seen a complete makeover in the last 18 months and repeat clients are sure to be impressed. The spa in particular was superb. And then travelling west along the coast to the Vila Vita Parc Resort. The rooms have all been upgraded, but to me the most pleasing aspect was the enhancement in several of the restaurants, looking so inviting.
I managed to visit the marina area of Vilamoura. This was 8 minutes shuttle transfer from the ANANTARA. It reminded me a lot of Puerto Banus in Marbella, some mega yachts, lots of restaurants and bars with quite a lively nightlife. Would not be my choice to stay, but handy to have close by as an option.
The sea & sand are of course one of the main attractions of the Algarve but, as this trip showed me, it offers so much more.
So where did the word Algarve originate from, I hear some of you ask. Turns out it’s an Ottoman Arabic word meaning land to the west.